Obesity is not only a human epidemic.
A dog carrying excess weight is not just a ‘fat dog’. Increased weight leads to systemic inflammatory changes within the body affecting the joints, organs and soft tissues; as well as increasing the loading through the joints. There are metabolic implications of obesity, which has been shown through human research linking hand osteoarthritis (a non-weight bearing joint) and obesity.
A reduction in a dog’s weight can reduce symptoms of lameness and improve their mobility. A strong piece of evidence of dogs with hind-limb lameness demonstrates dogs put on a reduced calorie diet subsequently losing 11-18% weight have a significant reduction in lameness and mobility.
Weight management of your dog is vet led, whilst veterinary nurse clinics can also provide regular reassurance and monitoring of your pet. Diet restriction and clinically prescribed exercise by your Physiotherapist provides the optimal environment for facilitating your dog to lose weight in a safe way whilst minimising the risk of exacerbating any symptoms of discomfort.
The Body Condition Score for dogs can be accessed online or at your local veterinary practice in ensuring your dog is optimal weight physically, this is a visual scale and thus applies across breeds whilst weighing your dog can be unreliable depending on their conformation.
Helpful Tip:Typical guidelines for a dog’s kibble diet overegg a dog’s requirements by 40%. Dog’s kept on 60% of the recommended amount have been shown to maintain a healthier weight and have reduced signs of osteoarthritis.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) mainly affects breeds that are bred with a genetic disorder leading to an abnormality in the cell structure of their cartilage and soft tissues. This effects their discs as cartilage makes up the outer fibrous layer of an intervertebral disc. Such breeds effects predominately include Daschunds, but also Shitzu, Pekingnese, Basser Hounds, Spaniels and Beagles, amongst others.
So what is an intervertebral disc? It’s the cushion sitting between the vertebra, or boney building blocks, of the spine. Sometimes it’s referred to as similar to a jam doughnut, although tough and thick on the outside, the inner disc is made of a thick sticky substance. The disc absorbs the impact of movement/ concussion as we move, run and jump around.
There are a number of classifications of IVDD - Hansen I, II and III, but not all canine back pain is IVDD so it is always vital if you think there is something wrong to have your dog checked by their veterinarian. There is a lot of information on this disease here: https://www.dachshund-ivdd.uk. Depending on the classification of disease and the grade of injury to the spinal cord the symptoms you will see in your dog will differ from grade I; localised back pain without neural compromise, to grade V; back pain, paralysis of the hindlimbs, loss of bladder/ bowel control and loss of deep pain sensation in the paws. Any of these symptoms from grade I – V need immediate veterinary attention. IVDD can be managed operatively or conservatively and depending on the grade of the injury diagnosed your vet will outline the appropriate management plan for your dog, whether that is conservative or surgical.
In recovery dogs are great at developing compensatory movement patterns in allowing them to do as they please and fulfil their family or working role. It is therefore absolutely mandatory you must follow your veterinarian’s instructions on resting your dog! This is the hardest part for doting owners and I have seen it many times. Our dogs whinge at us and they pull puppy eyes and it is difficult to leave them in their crate. However, you understand why you are managing them in this way, and you are imperative in your dog’s recovery!
Overall, we are aiming to maximise your dog’s quality of movement so whether post-op or on conservative management a referral by your vet for early Physiotherapy input is key in optimising your dog’s long-term recovery. Your Physiotherapist can assist with pain management, quality of movement, advising you on enabling your dog by adapting aspects of your home environment and prescribing well-reasoned specifically targeted exercises in increasing range of movement, strength and endurance towards their usual activities. Your Physiotherapist will work collaboratively for a multidisciplinary team approach to your dog’s management including with your vet, nurse, hydrotherapist and you! More information on the impact of specific rehabilitation can be found here: https://www.dachshund-ivdd.uk/symptoms-treatment/rehabilitation/
There is lots of information out there on IVDD, but be selective with what you read. If there is anything for you to suspect your dog might have back pain getting to the vet immediately is your best course of action, from here you can begin the diagnosis process and the best course of management for your dog. If you are looking for a Physiotherapist to support you in your dog’s management you can find your local Human and Veterinary Chartered Physiotherapist on the ACPAT website: https://www.acpat.org/find-a-physio.
Osteoarthritis affects a whooping 20% of the dog population over one year old and is most often secondary to a trauma (such as a fracture effecting the joint), deformed cartilage (genetics are normally to blame here! Dogs that are bred with dwarfism have changes to the make-up of their cartilage); and joint dysplasia.
So, what is it? Osteoarthritis is disease of the joints characterised by degenerate articular cartilage. In an arthritic joint there is a reduction in the joint space between the ends of the bones; the cartilage becomes less congruent increasing the friction within the joint during movement and over time boney changes occur with boney spurs that grow into the joint (a little like if you imagine stalagmites and stalagtites in a cave).
Clinically the symptoms we see in dogs (and humans) with osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness, a reduction in exercise tolerance, lameness (an asymmetry in movement) and disability (a reduction in function). Pain is the main clinical sign to negatively impact on a dog’s quality of life, daily functioning and mobility. The discomfort experienced can be acute in times of an exacerbation (flare up), but is mainly a chronic pain, often described as a dull, nagging discomfort.
Your vet will initially use medication in symptom modification and pain relief. They will also lead on weight management/loss and make appropriate onward referrals. Due to the Veterinary Surgeon’s Act (1966) your vet must provide consent prior to commencing Physiotherapy, or any therapy.
Physiotherapy is an allied health profession aimed at restoring movement and function in injury, illness or disability. Physiotherapists prescribe specific exercises in the clinical management of your dog which are individualised and reasoned following a thorough musculoskeletal assessment. Exercise can be prescribed in combination with hands on therapy, massage and electrotherapy in optimising your dog’s comfort. Appropriate exercise can be advised in conjunction with weight management or weight loss interventions. Physiotherapists are perfectly placed to advise on home adaptations which will enable your dog to maximise their quality of life in being able fulfil their role within the family by maintaining their optimal mobility. We can also discuss with you some behavioural management techniques to ensure your dog is receiving mental stimulation and enrichment, even if you cannot provide them the same amount of exercise in managing their symptoms effectively.
Both land and water therapy can be referred for by your veterinarian, with canine hydrotherapy incorporating either swimming or the under-water treadmill – both of which have their benefits but must be reasoned for your specific case depending on the aims of treatment. Physiotherapists and Hydrotherapists work collaboratively in managing clinical symptoms and aiming towards personalised goals that are realistic for your dog.
Overall, research shows that exercise therapy is effective in the management of osteoarthritis when appropriately reasoned and targeted exercise is prescribed. Gold standard healthcare is becoming more widely available to our beloved pooches and a multi-disciplinary team approach including your Vet, Vet Nurses, Physiotherapists and Hydrotherapists should be considered in encouraging and optimising your dog’s quality of life.
HACHI Physiotherapy offers the highest quality and evidence-based care for both humans and hounds. HACHI is named after Hachikō, a global symbol of canine loyalty which lies within the core of HACHI's values. I am based in Leeds and spend some of my week in East Yorkshire lecturing at the University of Hull, I provide a mobile service mainly across East and West Yorkshire.
I have eight years of experience in managing complex trauma, orthopaedic and musculoskeletal injuries across a range of environments including; elite sport, NHS and private sector healthcare. I am now an academic at the University of Hull and run HACHI alongside of this.
My wealth of knowledge and experience means I am able to offer evidence-based hands on and exercise based therapies in the management of pain, optimisation of function and restoration of movement.
If you require any further information please get in touch!